As you grow older, it’s natural to think more about your physical and cognitive health. Perhaps you read each day to keep your brain sharp or go for a daily walk to get in some much-needed movement.
However, have you thought recently about your financial wellness? You may not link “money” and “health.” But having well-managed finances can allow you to retire comfortably, have a “rainy-day fund” for emergencies (such as an accident) and put yourself in a position to leave money to family members when you pass.
Started in 2004, Financial Literacy Month happens each April and gives us a reason to evaluate our financial wellness. Consider this 10-step guide your roadmap.
1. Commit to Financial Wellness
Before you can achieve a goal, you need to make a promise to yourself that you’ll go for it. Consider writing it down — experts say you’re more likely to achieve goals when you complete this simple task. Telling someone about your goal can also help you keep your commitment.
Have a “why” for attaining financial wellness. It may be one reason or several. Keep these in mind as you go about the rest of your journey.
2. Assess Your Finances
Take a hard look at your financial situation. Do you have debt? Is it good debt (maybe you went back to school) or something more harmful to your credit score, such as missed payments on a home renovation? Are there areas you’re doing well in (like paying bills on time) and any gaps (like saving for retirement)? Assessing your financial wellness will help you set incremental goals and priorities.
3. Set Priorities
Now that you know what you’re doing well and what you need to work on, you can prioritize your next steps. Perhaps your credit score is low, and you want to improve it so you can purchase real estate. You might start by ensuring bills are paid on time and paying off your credit card each month. During this process, you can also set a budget that takes all of your financial wellness goals into account.
As you prioritize, set incremental goals for yourself. Short-term goals take about two years to accomplish, and mid-term ones take two to five years. Give yourself five or more years for long-term goals.
4. Ditch the Debt
It’s more challenging to save when you’re still paying off anything from school loans to credit card bills. One of the first things you’ll need to do on your road to financial wellness is pay off any debt. Experts usually recommend one of two ways to go about this task:
The first is to continue to make payments on all existing debt but to pay off the smallest balance first. Then, move on to the next smallest balance and the next and so forth.
The second approach is to repay the debt with the highest interest rate first to save yourself extra charges over time. You can speak with a financial advisor about which is best for you.
5. Prepare for the Unexpected
You can have the best, most comprehensive plan in the world only for life to throw you a curveball, such as an illness. Though you can’t necessarily plan for these events, you can be ready for them by having a rainy-day fund. Set aside about six months of living expenses just in case.
6. Track Spending and Saving
You already made a budget. Now, hold yourself accountable by keeping track of where your money is going. Tracking expenses and savings not only keeps you honest but also lets you know if money is getting low and helps you identify other gaps in your financial wellness plan. For example, perhaps you realize you’re spending a ton on cable each month, but you rarely watch TV. You might consider cutting the chord.
7. Figure Out Ways to Save
If you’re more free-spirited when it comes to money, you may enjoy spending significantly more than saving. That’s understandable, but savings can help you do everything from ensuring you’re financially secure in case of emergency to allowing you to take nicer vacations during retirement. Figure out ways to reduce spending. It doesn’t have to be brutal — small changes add up. Think about paying closer attention to sales at the grocery store or reducing the number of streaming services you use.
8. Protect Yourself
As you age, you become more susceptible to fraud. Unfortunately, some bad actors are in our own families. Ensure that your finances are secure even if you fall ill and are unable to speak for yourself by having a living will, last will and testament and financial power of attorney. These legal documents specify who gets certain assets and is allowed to make financial decisions on your behalf. Even if your family isn’t trying to take advantage of you, it’s good to have this in order — it takes the burden off them during difficult times.
9. Assemble a Financial Team
You may know how to track spending, but you may not know the difference between a 401 (k) and an IRA. That’s OK. You can work with a financial advisor to help you figure out the best ways to manage your money. It may be best to work with an accountant to ensure you get the highest possible refund (which you can then put into savings) for taxes.
10. Enjoy the Benefits
You probably have a good bit on your plate, and thinking about finances is another task. However, think of it as a source of delayed gratification. You actually have far fewer things to worry about by achieving financial wellness, like debt or if you’ll have enough to retire by a certain age.
We are taught throughout our lives to exercise and eat healthy, but unfortunately we aren’t told from an early age how important it is to keep your finances healthy. As you grow older and your assets increase, it is increasingly important to follow the right steps in order to achieve financial wellness. Use the tips above to move into your golden years feeling great financially.